Queen praises ‘wash bag’ scheme backers for believing in ‘kindness of strangers’

The Queen has praised those behind the relaunch of a “wash bag” scheme for sexual assault victims for believing in the “kindness of strangers”.

Camilla hosted the organisations at a Buckingham Palace reception and recounted a mother’s story about her daughter who received a “wonderful bag of toiletries” that “lifted our moods” after a forensic examination following an attack.

Among the guests were Health Secretary Victoria Atkins, Home Secretary James Cleverly, former prime minister Theresa May and Jess Phillips, a former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, alongside representatives from police forces, health services and others connected with the issue.

The King’s consort told her guests she first championed the idea of wash bags more than a decade ago after “learning more about the horrific impact sexual violence, and its aftermath, has on survivors” during visits to Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs).

She told them the story of a woman she called Jane: “Two years ago, Jane attended a SARC, with her mother and sister, for a full forensic examination just hours after being attacked.

“This was described by her mother as a ‘horrible, if necessary, event. We were preparing to leave and were all feeling very low and subdued. Jane’s personal contact then returned with a wonderful bag of toiletries and items to pamper and relax her. This simple act completely changed the atmosphere and lifted our moods. It was such a lovely and completely unexpected gesture, which reminded my daughters and I of the kindness of strangers at a very dark time’.

“As you can imagine, this letter moved me deeply. The phrase ‘the kindness of strangers at a very dark time’ is, to me, the guiding principle of everything that you all do.

Royal reception for the Wash Bags project
Camilla speaks to Cherie Blair at the reception (Eamonn M McCormack/PA)

“Reaching out a hand of friendship to people who have been dehumanised in the most brutal way; giving comfort to those who are traumatised; and offering hope that physical and emotional healing are possible, as Jane can vouch for.”

The Home Secretary, who mingled with the guests who included Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie Johnson, said at the start of the year he regretted making a “joke” about spiking his wife’s drink with a date rape drug, just hours after announcing plans to crack down on the issue.

He said about Camilla: “I’m here, I suppose in large part to say thank you to her for the ongoing commitment she’s made, quietly but for quite some time.

“It’s one of those issues, that bringing it out of the shadows, talking about it publicly is not easy, is not comfortable and the fact that there is such a high-profile champion is really good.”

Camilla shakes hands with Zara McDermott at the reception
Camilla shakes hands with Zara McDermott at the reception (Eamonn M McCormack/PA)

Among the guests was Zara McDermott who has presented a BBC documentary on the subject of revenge porn and previously said she was left devastated when her naked photos went viral after being posted online following her appearance on reality TV show Love Island in 2018.

Ms Phillips said: “What we need is action. There are victims at this event who are currently awaiting not trial but charge – for two-and-a-half years.

“The Queen is an unbelievable advocate, I’ve worked with her now for nearly a decade on this subject. She does it quietly and with actual purpose, with actual practical solutions for actual people.”